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SMALL TOWNS: A journey from Mexico to running a farm in Manitowoc County

Rosario Ibarra's love of animals took her on an unexpected, international journey. She now manages one of the largest dairy farms in Manitowoc County.
Updated: Apr. 21, 2022 at 6:10 PM CDT
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MANITOWOC COUNTY, Wis. (WBAY) - Just ten years ago, Rosario Ibarra immigrated from Mexico to Wisconsin. Today she’s in charge of one of the largest dairy farms in Manitowoc County.

This week in Small Towns, we travel to Newton to meet up with Rosario on the Grotegut Dairy Farm, where she is always on the go.

“So right now we are heading to the milking barn where we have around 3,000 cows,” says Rosario in her car.

The farm is a much larger operation than she first saw, growing up in a small, rural town in Mexico.

“My grandpa has a small farm, but I’m talking about 10 cows out in the field and 20 chickens, three sheep, that kind of environment, but there was no tractors, nothing, everything was by hand,” recalls Rosario.

Safe to say, Rosario wasn’t a big fan of farm chores back then.

“I hated them, I was like I don’t like the sun, I don’t like to get wet, I don’t like to get dirty, I was a library person, I was always reading books, newspaper, my idea, or the idea of everybody was I was supposed to be a lawyer or an accountant, an office person, never, never anything related with a farm or animals, not at all, like that wasn’t my thing at all,” says Rosario before laughing.

But once in college, something changed.

“When I realized the need for professional people in agriculture,” says Rosario.

That propelled Rosario on a previously, unexpected journey.

And while earning a bachelor’s degree in agronomy and masters of business administration, Rosario discovered something else in her crowded college environment.

“I don’t like people, I don’t want to work with people, I need animals,” says Rosario, laughing and joking.

She’d soon get her wish.

To earn her degree, Rosario had to complete an international internship somewhere in the world related to agriculture.

Guess where she ended up?

“I was selected and they sent me to New Holstein to work in a small dairy farm to learn about how the dairy industry works,” explains Rosario.

It proved to be an eye-opening experience.

“I landed here, zero English of course, no idea about cows, I think that was the first time I saw a real dairy cow in my life, the first time that I saw a Holstein, I was like oh my God, and I fell in love with the dairy industry,” recalls Rosario.

After returning to Mexico, Rosario landed a job with a business that imported feed additives for dairy cows from a company in Manitowoc.

In 2012, that company hired Rosario to work for them in Manitowoc, valuing her knowledge in agriculture and her ability to now speak both Spanish and English.

Word of Rosario’s talent eventually spread and she became a consultant for the Grotegut Farm, assisting with challenges in managing operations.

“Helping with employees, we started to do trainings and meetings,” says Rosario.

So impressed with the positive changes she influenced, ownership hired Rosario as the farm’s general manager in 2017.

“She has an excellent personality, positivity, regardless of what’s going on in the day, she just takes things as they come and handles it and is excellent at her job,” says veterinarian Jacey Benzing, who spends a lot of time with Rosario at the farm.

As the farm’s G-M, Rosario oversees the daily activities of 40 employees.

She’s also in charge of the milking parlor and the calf and maternity teams.

And whether it’s the little ones or the thousands of mothers, Rosario has come to love cows, love her job, and the idea of establishing a legacy.

“I am proud of being able to give back a little of what Wisconsin gave me years ago, the opportunity to come here to learn from a really good farm and to learn from a lot of people that have a real passion for the dairy industry. I’m hoping that I’m being a good example,” says Rosario.

Rosario also hopes by sharing her story she can serve as an inspiration to other minority women, proving you can rise to the top of Wisconsin’s storied dairy industry.

Jeff Alexander talks about covering the inspirational story of a woman from Mexico now in charge of one of Manitowoc County's largest dairy farms

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